Saturday, 9 January 2016

Namestnikov's Emergence is Key for Tampa Bay

There hasn’t been much to get excited about in Tampa Bay Lightning-land so far this season.  Aside from the odd happening, things have been fairly bleak for a while now.  With that said, one of the more exciting things to watch this year has been the emergence of Vladislav Namesnikov, the team’s first round pick from the 2011 draft. 

While some observers might point to his 16 points through 41 games this season and suggest that he hasn’t grown since putting up 16 points in 43 games last season, the reality is that he has taken huge strides forward.  The bottom line: Namestnikov is proving that he has what it takes to be a legitimate top-six forward at the National Hockey League level.  And that’s great news for the Lightning, especially when you consider that the team could very well be without Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Drouin by the time the 2016-17 season rolls around.

I think for a lot of people outside the Tampasphere, it might be a little bit difficult to believe that some relatively unknown guy with a super long name has been so effective to start the 2015-16 season.  He has totally flown under the radar.  Outsiders don’t talk about his ability to drive the play forward.  They don’t talk about his slick hands.  Instead, they talk about how he looks like a “Russian Justin Bieber.”  Hockey, man.  Tampa fans can get away with the whole "Russian Bieber" thing because we know how good he's been on the ice.

But, still, digging beyond the Bieber narrative can tell us quite a bit.  Consider that, per, 244 forwards have played more than 400 minutes of five-on-five time so far this year.  Among those 244 forwards, here is how Namestnikov ranks in various key areas:

As you can see there, Namestnikov has essentially established himself as a top-six forward.  With the exception of actually putting up points, something that can admittedly take a little while for young players making the adjustment from AHL life to NHL life, Namestnikov has been one of the LEAGUE’S more effective forwards to start 2015-16.  Take a look at the company he finds himself in on that table.  It’s impressive.  The Russian Bieber has game.

Given that he was such a productive forward in the AHL, it’s hard to imagine that his offensive game won’t translate to the NHL level in time.  The fact of the matter is that his 155th ranked P/60 metric shouldn’t be a concern to Tampa fans or management.  At the end of the day, whenever coach Jon Cooper sends Namestnikov over the boards, he is getting effective minutes from him.  It’s hard to ask for much more from a player playing in his first full NHL season.  A guy helping to control the play like he has so far this year won't stay quiet on the scoreboard forever.

The bottom line: There’s a very real chance that Tampa is without Stamkos and Drouin to start next year, as mentioned.  The emergence of Namestnikov as a legitimate everyday player might help ease that pain.  Chalk this one up as another win for Steve Yzerman at the draft.

As always, thanks for reading. 

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